Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Philip Pilkington points to a key problem: utopian abstraction as policy solution

Policymakers have become reductionists to a Utopian abstraction--policy failures and human misery follow accordingly:
Thomas Carlyle famously called economics the “dismal science” but the reason why he bestowed upon the discipline this title is less well-known. In hisOccasional Discourse on the Negro Question he wrote of economics:
The social science – not a “gay science”, but a rueful – which finds the secret of this universe in “supply and demand”, and reduces the duty of human governors to that of letting men alone, is also wonderful. Not a “gay science”, I should say, like some we have heard of; no, a dreary, desolate and, indeed, quite abject and distressing one; what we might call, by way of eminence, the dismal science.
Carlyle had it basically correct. What makes economics so dismal is indeed that it reduces all human activity to the so-called ‘laws’ of supply and demand. What makes it so dangerous is that it tells those in power that the best policy is to simply leave people to engage in market transactions without any interference and utopia will result. While one can make a convincing case that supply and demand are extremely important facets of human activity, proceeding from there to reducing all human behaviour to market transactions is sheer nonsense. But unfortunately this is the direction that economics has taken since the turn of the 19th century.

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